The value and ‘joy of a good book’ celebrated at Bishop Hill’s Twinflower Inn

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Meghan Cooley, a Quad Cities mother of four, enjoyed leisurely hours of reading at a Twinflower Inn Book Lover Weekend Retreat she attended last year with four friends. Cooley wrote in her blog that the weekend reminded her “of the value of self and the joy of a good book.” (Photo courtesy of Meghan Cooley)

Meghan Cooley, a Quad Cities mother of four boys, thought she might be dreaming when she heard about a Book Lover Weekend Retreat at a historic bed and breakfast in Henry County.

“A whole weekend to read, where someone else already did the planning, will do the cooking and cleaning? A getaway that wasn’t too far away, where I could revisit pre-children lazy weekends spent lounging around reading the latest best-seller or romance novel? Is this for real?” Cooley wrote in her Quad City Moms Blog last August.

The retreat at the Twinflower Inn in Bishop Hill is real and is becoming increasingly popular each year, said Brian “Fox” Ellis, who owns the inn with his wife, Kimberly Thrush.

“I may not have these numbers exactly right, but the first year we thought we’d try three retreats and we sold out four. Then the next year we thought we’d try four and we sold out five. And last year we had sold out 5 and somebody called who wanted to bring their book group, so we added a sixth just for them,” Ellis said.

This year’s remaining weekends are filling up fast, so the innkeepers are already thinking of adding another. The retreats are currently set for Jan. 31-Feb. 2, Feb. 21-23, March 13-15, March 27-29 and April 17-19.

Cost for the weekend, including lodging and meals, is $180 for single occupancy or $130 per person for double occupancy. If they don’t finish all their reading, participants have the option of staying an extra night for just $50.

With five rooms, including two that have two beds and one that has three, the inn can accommodate up to 12 people, depending on how many are willing to share a room. Most of the retreats host about eight guests, Ellis said.

For an added fee, the retreat also offers options for an in-room massage, a Sip ‘n Paint event and a historic walking tour of Bishop Hill led by Ellis, a professional storyteller.

“We have a couple of opportunities with meals and afternoon tea to get together and discuss your book and what you’re reading and talk to literary-minded people or you can stay in your room and be a bit of a recluse and have a really quiet weekend if that’s what you like,” Ellis said. “You can stay in your pajamas all weekend, if you want to.”

The Twinflower Inn, located in Bishop Hill, about an hour from Peoria and 45 minutes from the Quad Cities, offers relaxing Book Lover Weekend Retreats among other events throughout the year. The inn is located in the former Colony Hospital that served patients during the Civil War. (Photo courtesy of the Twinflower Inn)

Cooley, who attended with four friends, chose to skip the extras and spent the weekend reading one whole book and nearly all of a second.

“My favorite hobby is being a mom, and that doesn’t often include long leisurely hours of book reading unless it’s ‘Llama Llama Red Pajama’ or ‘The Day the Crayons Quit.’ However, this weekend reminded me of the value of self, and the joy of a good book,” she wrote.

Located about an hour from Peoria and 45 minutes from the Quad Cities, Ellis said most guests come from those two areas, although some have traveled from Chicago or St. Louis.

What makes the retreats so popular?

“We’re all really busy, and we have a lot of things on our to-do list,” he said. “This is a chance to just unplug from everything and have a quiet weekend, and people relish that.”

While Ellis and his wife are busy cooking, cleaning and taking care of the guests during the retreats, he said they always try to find time to sit and read, too, and then enjoy the conversations over dinner on what everyone else is reading.

Ellis and Thrush bought the inn in 2013 and changed its name from Colony Hospital to the Twinflower Inn in honor of their grown twin daughters and because the twinflower is the national flower of Sweden. The tiny village of Bishop Hill was founded in 1846 by Swedish immigrants.

Built in 1855, the Colony Hospital was one of the first and largest hospitals in the area. “Bishop Hill enlisted an entire brigade, so a fair number of Civil War soldiers came back and recuperated here,” Ellis said.

After the hospital closed, the building was converted into apartments for a time before being turned into a bed and breakfast about 20 years ago. “We did not want to be your grandma’s doily-strewn bed and breakfast, so we redecorated with a Swedish flair in a simple, elegant and eclectic mix with some antiques and, of course, brand new beds,” Ellis said.

Book Lover Weekend Retreats at the Twinflower Inn bed and breakfast in Bishop Hill include breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meghan Cooley, a Quad Cities mother of four who attended one of the retreats with friends last year, wrote in her blog, “The food was fantastic, the beverages tasty and rooms very comfortable.” (Photo courtesy of Meghan Cooley)

The Twinflower Inn also hosts an annual writer’s retreat in January and will be offering a first-ever book fair with local authors and mini-workshops on April 4, followed by day-long workshops on writing your life story, writing your family history and writing your community history to be scheduled over the next several months.

Other special events throughout the year revolve around an antique fair, the fall harvest, maple syrup making, concerts and storytelling. Ellis has also partnered with the Illinois Audubon Society to host two three-day bird-watching trips May 12-14 and May 26-28.

“I call it Birding Between Two Rivers because we’re about halfway between the Illinois and Mississippi,” Ellis said. “I wrote the Illinois River Road bird-watching map for the Illinois River Road Tourism Board, so I know all the hot spots.”

Other times, the entire Twinflower Inn can be rented for special events, gatherings, family reunions and weddings.

“There’s something going on at the inn almost every weekend,” Ellis said. “It’s been really wonderful for us and for our guests. Our motto is: This is your home base for adventure.”

For more information, visit the Twinflower Inn’s Facebook page or website at or call 309-696-0833.